Watching James Brown in action in video of his performances in the 1960s and ’70s, it’s difficult to imagine someone so assured and in control of himself and his band descending into drug-induced chaos. He even insisted his musicians remain drug-free, which alienated some, including Catfish and Bootsy Collins, who departed for Parliament-Funkadelic where experimentation with drugs was more a qualification than a fire-able offense.
But the ’80s took their toll on the “Soul Brother No. 1” as he started using PCP. He was arrested numerous times before, in 1988, he reportedly pulled a shotgun on a man for using the toilet in his office before fleeing, leading police on a chase near the border of Georgia and South Carolina. He was convicted of possession, driving under the influence, carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer and sentenced to six years in jail; released in three. He continued to have problems with the law for the last 15 years of his life, most often owing to charges of domestic violence.
His relationship with Adrienne Lois Rodriguez was insane. They met on the set of the TV show Solid Gold, on which Rodriguez worked as a hairstylist. Brown told Sharpton to get her number. The two fell in love, got married (she would be Brown’s third wife), and had a tumultuous relationship: They were both addicted to PCP; she called the cops on him a number of times for domestic violence; she once stabbed a woman in the butt who she thought was sleeping with Brown; she set his clothes on fire; she allegedly put PCP into his creamed corn. In 1996, she died after undergoing liposuction owing to a combination of PCP and prescription medications.
Brown kept up a rigorous tour schedule well into his 70s. His trumpeter Hollie Farris remembered they were doing a show in South America when the doctor gave him shots, put a catheter in him, only to take it out, do a one-and-a-half-hour show, and then come back and put the catheter back in. In another performance in Tbilisi, Georgia, Brown performed in a swimming facility with the stage at the edge of the pool. Brown jumped into the pool at the climax of “Sex Machine” and had to be fished out by his bandmates. He got back onstage and finished the song.
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